Archive for November, 2015

A White Suffer-Fest

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

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Several years ago my friend Mat and I both made our way out of the race scene at the same time and found ourselves enjoying just riding again. For both of us that meant covering big distance and new terrain so bike packing became a natural. We made a commitment to make an overnight trip once a month during season. Over the years though life gets in the way and this past season we only made a few trips together. Add to that though a shockingly mild autumn and a plan was hatched to do a late season trip into some unexplored country. All we needed was to wait for hunting season to release the back country again and we had a date set. Of course going on a cycling trip in late November in the snow belt is sketchy at best so we had back up plan, just no desire to use it.

Leading up to the trip the weather remained mild almost to the last when suddenly there was a snow squall in the works bringing 4-6″ of snow. Still very doable for fat bikes so with some last minute scrambles on my part to get some new rubber thanks to Algonquin Outfitters we were back on.

Saturday arrived and we were still without any consequential amount of snow, but some detours and errands still meant a late start. We were heading to explore some forgotten logging roads near the border of Algonquin Park around the Rain Lake access and just saw a few flakes as we parked the truck and got our gear organized. Late start or not we were off.

The trip started pretty easily with better trails than we had expected. And some steeper ascents. Central Ontario isn’t exactly known for big elevation and our entire trip would fall between 1400 and 1800′, but this pocket is amongst the highest elevations in the province and some of the steepest slopes. Add on some gentle snow as we ride and as strange as it seems at this low elevation we soon crossed the snow line. Suddenly we couldn’t see the next ridge over for the snow and the ground was white.

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We pressed on but the snow kept getting heavier.

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Around 3:30 we came to a creek crossing that had been permanently closed by the logging crews. It wouldn’t have been a terrible challenge to cross but given that we were having trouble seeing the trail through the snow and fogging glasses we opted to set camp. With sunset coming so soon we knew it was important to set camp before it got dark then ride a little more to explore further without hauling all our gear along.

By the time camp was set though my fingers were frozen and we were in four inches of snow. In the time it took to set out my bed roll my tent was covered in snow. It was just dinner and an early night to bed.

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I had never been winter camping before that night. I just hoped my sleeping bag rated to zero plus the fact that I sleep warm would be enough. Turns out it just was enough but I wouldn’t go out again with a light weight sleeping pad – the air holes in my pad meant a series of cold spots if I feel into them all night.

But a good night’s sleep wasn’t to be regardless. Every few hours I’d wake to something pressed to my face. My tent was collapsing under the weight of the intensifying storm. At one point I actually had to shovel some snow away from my tent so the fresh snow fall had somewhere to go. This didn’t seem promising.

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We woke in the morning to 10″ of snow at camp. My tent with all the snow and ice barely fit back into my saddle bag even without the other gear and my poles were frozen together. I have more to learn about winter camping.

More importantly though was that at this point we were 11km from the truck. We were suddenly happy for the short day the day before because 10″ of powder makes riding fat bikes up hill near impossible. By the time we got to the top of the hill at 1700′ the snow was up to my hubs – 14″ – and the bikes would stand in their own track even with all our gear hanging off them. Pushing bikes through this much snow for 11km was going to take most of the day.

After an hour and a half we got back out to a logging road off the skidder trail we had been following. At least now we could put our foot down through the snow without wondering where it would actually land. It also meant we would make a little better time and that silenced the coyote barks I kept hearing behind us.

Another hour of slogging through the snow put us into a small valley and below our snow line from the previous day – suddenly there was only about six inches of snow. In no time we were able to cover a few kilometers by actually riding our bikes. The trip didn’t seem all that bad anymore.

After one more push back through more deep snow up over the tallest, steepest ridge of the trip we had what should have been a fast downhill back out to the main road. It should have been smooth sailing from here but even still the snow was too deep to ride. I cruised along for 300m without any issue then without warning found myself on the ground. This trip just wasn’t going to let go so easily. That’s probably why even when we got to the truck it was stuck in the snow bank.

It was one of the toughest trips we’ve ever done and I had no intentions of doing another winter bike packing trip. After making it home and getting a warm shower though pushing a bike through knee deep snow sounded a little more appealing. At least it left a good story.

Who’s coming on the next one?