Another day, completely different conditions.

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My last post from Saturday had me hesitating to go out because the trail conditions had deteriorated so much from repeated thaws. I decided to get on a bike and see for myself what shape the trails were in. It turned out to be a good ride. Although for from ideal, I was able to ride and enjoy being out.

Yesterday, Sunday, the 50% chance of less than an inch of snow predicted for overnight Saturday night turned into a 100% chance of 3 inches of snow. What a surprise. So I definitely was going to go out for a ride. It was still snowing lightly when I left. By the time the ride was over the skies had cleared. The biggest surprise was not that it snowed as much as it did, but how treacherous the conditions were. I stayed away from the mtb singletrack because the snow was soft and I didn’t wanted to leave ruts. Plus I was concerned about not being to see the icy spots that were covered in fresh snow.

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Wipe-out.

I quickly discovered the paths and snowmobile trails I chose to ride were covered in glare ice. That ice was completely hidden by the fresh snow. In the first 3 miles I went down twice.¬† At that point I turned around and cautiously headed for home. I never felt the need to have studs on my fatbike tires because our winters are typically cold enough we don’t get the repeated freeze/thaw cycles. The freeze/thaw plus the rain we had last week covered everything in ice. Studded tires required.

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Keene Creek

I ended up taking my time getting home and taking some pictures along the way.

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Kingsbury Creek
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Kingsbury Creek

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Less then ideal.

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Is this what they call “popcorn snow”?

A week ago we had near record high temps in the 50’s. Followed by heavy rain on Monday. Heavy rain in February??? The snow at my house completely disappeared with the exception of a few piles. Wednesday night it rained again along the big lake and at my house. But go a 1/4 mile up the hill and there’s a couple inches of new snow on top of some crusty, icy stuff. I heard conflicting rumors of good riding conditions and the opposite. Including a the need for studded tires.

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This was a clear case of just going and finding out for myself. The morning temp was 8F when I got up. It was warming up slowly despite abundant sunshine. I got out after lunch. The temp had only risen to 24F degrees. I assumed everything would be firm. And it was. I went up on the ridge above my house to Brewer Park.

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I found “less then ideal” conditions, but it was still ride-able. I found myself dismounting quite a bit to walk around icy patches. Studded tires would have been nice. I did okay without. More troublesome then the icy spots was stretches where walkers and runners had been on the trail when there was soft conditions. The deep, frozen footprints nearly bounced me off my bike. I had to walk a few sections due to this. Overall I did more walking to get around the footprints frozen in the trail then I did to get around ice. We need to educate all users to stay off the trails during soft conditions.

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I’m so happy I went and found out for myself what conditions where like. It was challenging riding, but I still had fun. I got to enjoy the sunshine and ride my bike through the wooded hillsides overlooking Duluth. That’s a good day.

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The Purple Pug still looks good after so many winters!!!

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February is for fatbiking??

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February, for me at least, is for fatbiking……unless you’re in the middle of a weirdly warm February. Taking it to the roads is what I was doing this weekend. I used the word “weird” to describe our weather on my blog post from Saturday, two days ago. I’m not the only one using this word. I’ve read it on the FB, on other blogs, and on NPR this morning. A meteorologist on the radio used the word “weird” to describe the weather in Minnesota over the past week. He said 197 record high temperatures were broken over the weekend in Minnesota. Here in Duluth we missed record highs by a degree or two Friday and Saturday. Despite not setting a new record, nobody can seem to remember experiencing 50 degrees temps in Duluth in February. It’s just, well, weird.

I’m not saying it’s climate change, or that winters are warmer then they used to be. perhaps they are. But I do remember that just three years ago we had one of the coldest winters on record. With something like 52 or 53 days with below zero temps. I remember it because bike commuted everyday that winter.

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This graphic I came across shows we still have cold winters. It shows 91.8% of Lake Superior covered in ice three years ago yesterday. This year only 8.2% is covered in ice. So maybe we aren’t having warmer winters overall, but we are having more wild, weird swings in weather patterns and temperatures.

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What this years warm winter means for me can be illustrated with the above. The local mtb trailheads were posted with this sign yesterday. It should be prime snowbiking weather, but instead I was riding the roads as the snow was quickly disappearing.

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I’m not complaining. I enjoy being on a bike whether it’s on snow or not. Maybe winter will make another appearance, or maybe I’ll have to wait until next winter.

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Either way I’ll be out riding a bike no matter what.

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The weird weather continues.

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On Skyline Parkway along Keene Creek.

It was only three days ago I posted about going for a fatbike ride with super snow conditions. Since then, we’ve started another big thaw. With near record temps yesterday around 50F degrees. And then this today:

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This warm of weather doesn’t normally happen until late April. Riding today felt like late April. Feeling the warmth, the snow quickly…very quickly….melting. People out everywhere. People out on their Harley’s. It didn’t feel like a February day that’s for sure. I’m not saying winter is over. You never know here. I’ve ridden snow on the Pugsley well into April a few years. I can also remember 2012 when we had a thaw in mid-February. One of the warmest March and April months ever seen here followed that. March is typically the snowiest month. So we will have to wait and see which we get this year.

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The Annual Polar Plunge fundraiser was today. They are usually jumping into a hole cut in the ice. Not today. They had open water. Really weird.

Sooo, on a February day when I would typically head out in the bitter cold to ride some snowy trails on my Surly Pugsley, I instead rode some roads on my A-train.

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I feel for the businesses that make a living off of winter sports, winter activities, and snow. Winter is becoming unpredictable in a place where winter was nearly always guaranteed.

Super-crunchy, super-fun fatbiking.

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Another slow Wednesday at work. So I had the day off. I’ve been feeling sad about winter….or lack thereof. The previous five days have been another winter thaw. Lots of sunshine and temps in the 40’s.¬† Lots of snow melting. Subzero temps are usually the norm the first few weeks of February. Not temps in the 40’s. I expected the trail conditions to be bad. But then last night we had a drop in temps. All the way down to 10F degrees this morning. Good enough to firm things up a bit. Or at least firm up what was left of the snow.

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Once again I opted for the snomo trails over the singeltrack mtb trails. It was the right choice. I rode for two hours and never saw another person, let alone any snow machines. After 11 years of fatbiking I’ve learned some of the best riding conditions can occur in the early Spring when the temps still drop below freezing at night. That usually means late March/early April for us. Not February 15th. The benefit of riding the snomo trails over single track trails is the ability to dodge icy spots on the wide trails. Plus the snow machine’s tracks tend to chew up icy spots enough to give the fatbike tires something to grab onto.

img_2485I mentioned “super-crunchy” in the title. The snow today was super-crunchy. With the thaw and direct sunshine the past several days, the snow had become very wet. With the sudden drop in temps, everything froze in place. All the loose snow churned up from the snow machines froze. So when I rode over it today it made an insanely loud crunching noise as I broke up all the frozen snow. The temp today was at 26F degrees with overcast skies, and no wind. Had the sun had been out it would have softened up all the snow.

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Another plus riding today was super-traction. I was able to almost double the psi I have been running in my tires. I was able to run them at a much higher pressure, higher then I ever run on snow. I did the same loop I did one week ago. That day I had freshly fallen snow that had just been groomed that hadn’t firmed up yet. I was running extremely low pressures¬† and still had to walk quite a few of the uphills. Today I rode everything. That was the super-fun part. Having amazing traction on snow is fun.

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The thing is, I can’t take pictures to show you the snow conditions. It doesn’t show up in pictures. Even with all my experience riding in different types of snow, I can’t look at the pictures I took today and tell how super-fantastic the conditions really were. In all honesty it looks like it would be somewhat slow conditions. But trust me. All the ingredients came together today. Firm, frozen base and no direct sun to soften it allowed me to run very high tire pressure and still have great traction. A fatbikers dream.

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I had no idea what to expect when I left the house today. I thought I might find icy trails. Without studded tires on my fatbike I would have had to turn around and head home. What I found was some of the best fatbiking of the season. I’m glad I made it out. With a forecast for more warm weather the next seven days, our snow cover may soon disappear.

Mid-week fatbike ride.

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Today is Wednesday. My place of employment sent me home after a half day of work. Things got slow. It was perfect timing for me. Yesterday we had a snowstorm that dropped 4-6 inches of fresh snow on us. It was followed by temps dropping below zero last night. That’s a recipe for good fatbiking.

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This is what a freshly groomed snowmobile trail looks like.

The local mountain bike club did did some grooming of their trails this morning. Normally I’d head for those. But I wasn’t convinced those would be firmed up yet. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon I didn’t expect there’d be many snowmobiles out. So I opted to ride the local snowmobiles trails instead. They too were freshly groomed. And by the looks of it I just missed seeing the groomer. I ended up riding for 3 hours. The sunshine, the fresh snow, and the promise of another warm-up by Friday. I took full advantage of my afternoon off.

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I just can’t ride past this overlook on Bardons Peak without taking a picture. I apologize if you’ve seen this shot many times before.

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Crossing the Magney-Snively Cross Country Ski Trails. Also groomed today.

I’ve been a cross-country skier for 38 years. But the last 11 winters I’ve averaged one ski day a year. Why? That’s how long I’ve had my Pugsley. All my outdoor time playing in the snow is now done on a fatbike. These freshly groomed cross country ski trails were calling to me, but I was on my Pugsley.

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By the time I got home the sun was setting and I was exhausted. It was a good day on the fatbike.

A weekend with two different types of fatbike rides.

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Smoke and steam from the stacks below show the lack of wind.

I had high hopes for getting in some good fatbiking rides this weekend. After the two week long January thaw there was nothing but ice everywhere. Earlier in the week we got a 3 inch snowfall. That was just enough to cover the ice. A dip in temperatures down around zero, and below, insured it would compact nicely onto the ice. Mid-week the local mtb club posted they had done some grooming. Things were looking up for getting back out onto the trails without having to worry about ice. The loop in Brewer Park was one of the sections that was groomed. Saturday I left the house and rode the one mile to the trailhead to access the Brewer Park trails.

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This is along the road on the way to the trail head.

It was quite pleasant with warm temps, 20F degrees, and no wind. Dense cloud cover made for low light conditions. It was hard to take photos. I was somewhat disappointed with the conditions. It wasn’t what I was expecting. The trail was covered in frozen footprints. If you’ve ever ridden over frozen footprints, you’ll know it’s not fun. Even fat tires don’t smooth those out. The fatbikers that use the local trails are good about not using the trails when they’re too soft. The walkers and runners don’t seem to be aware they’re leaving depressions. If you’re leaving depressions runners and walker’s you need to use snowshoes or stay off the groomed trails. I felt pretty beat up by the time I was finished with the loop. Here’s some more pictures from the day:

I didn’t feel like repeating the beating I took on Saturday, but I still wanted to get in a ride on snow. The first 9 years of owning my fatbike I rode the local snomo trails. Two years ago is when I switched to riding mostly mtb trails. That’s when the building of mtb trails came to my neighborhood. Plus, as the popularity of fatbikes exploded the Minnesota DNR strongly suggested fatbikes should not use snomo trails for safety reasons. Today being Superbowl Sunday, I figured many people would be at pre-game gatherings rather then out on their snow machines. I was correct. In two hours on the trails only 12 snomo machines passed me. I ALWAYS yield to them by stopping and stepping completely off the trail to let them pass.

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Today was completely different. The sun shine was bright and fantastic. The February sun is warm enough to stay comfortable when stopped out of the wind. The temp was 15F degrees and the wind was light. It was just about perfect conditions to be out on the trails. It felt great to be out on the trails I spent 9 years on. It’s where I did all my training for the two Arrowhead Ultra 135’s I started. Over the years I put in over 7,000 miles of fatbiking on snow on these trails. It was glorious to be back out on these trails once again.

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Over all it was a great weekend on the Pugsley.