Before there was bikepacking…

As a friend and I have been discussing the possibility of doing a bikepacking trip, it brought back memories of my first bikepacking trip.

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My bikepacking rig back in 2007.

In June of 2007 I had already owned my fat tired Pugsley for one year. I had attempted my first Arrowhead 135 earlier in the year. I had my first DNF ever. (I would return in 2008 and finish in 12th place). At this time, in the history of bikes, these crazy fat tire bikes were just being introduced as commercially available bikes. Prior to 2015 the only way to get a bike similar to this was to buy one from the few custom builders that offered them. As early adopters started to discover the possibilities of what these bikes could do, stories of adventures taking place off the beaten track were starting to appear.  The term bikepacking was not yet widely used, or used at all. The availability of framepacks and giant seatbags that we use today was minimal. There were only a few custom bag makers making these new kind of bags. Often there was a waiting list to get one custom made to fit your bike.

I had caught the bug. I bought my fat tired bike for use on winter trails. I wasn’t a summer mountain biker and didn’t plan to use the fat bike at all when there wasn’t snow on the ground. Reading other peoples adventures of loading up their fat tire bikes for off-road adventures intrigued me. I was aware of a dirt recreational trail that ran for 60 miles across Northwestern Wisconsin from Superior to Ashland. It’s called the Tri-County Corridor Trail. It is a multi-use trail which allow hikers, bikers, horses, and motorized users like ATV’s. It is mainly used by ATVer’s. Before it gets to Ashland, Wisconsin it passes through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

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The Tri-County Corridor multi-use trail is more like a ATV super highway than a trail.

My plan was to pack up my fat bike, ride across the bridge to Superior, connect up with the Tri-County trail, follow that to the National Forest. Once in the National Forest I would find a place camp. Dispersed camping without a permit is allowed.

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It turned out to be one of the best overnight camping trips I’ve ever done. Not only was I in tip top condition since I had essentially been training for the previous Arrowhead 135, and the next Arrowhead 135, non-stop for 18 months. This trip was a 120 mile round trip on a loaded fatbike. I didn’t see a single other bike on the entire trip. The only traffic I shared the route with was a couple of dozen ATV riders. I didn’t see another soul the 16 hours I spent in the National Forest. It was trip where it was just me and my bike, and the world I was passing through.

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Very soft low maintenance road in the National Forest.
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Dusty.

 

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My camp for the night on a remote abandoned logging road.

It was a great way to do my first ever bikepacking trip….even though I didn’t know that’s what it was called.

March snowbiking.

Here in Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, one never knows when winter will end. Since I moved here in 2001 we’ve had snow to ride as late as the last week of April. There’s been a couple of years since I started fatbiking in 2006 that there’s been continuous snow pack from mid-December until mid-April. Then there was the Spring of 2012 when we had a complete thaw in the middle of February and not any snow the rest of the season. That was crazy unusual.

This winter started out slow for accumulating snow. We had just enough to cover the ground starting in mid-December. Thanks to a lot of bitter cold temps, it has never melted off despite the lack of any base. There’s been just enough to ride. January was very cold, but absolutely no new snow. Then February we got a couple of feet of snow, mostly in the last week of the month. That has set us up for two weeks of fantastic snowbiking. This past week has been dry and sunny. We’ve been losing a few inches every day.

I’ve learned to get out when the conditions are good because you never know when it will be the last time out on snow for the year.

 

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The above picture is from a great ride last Saturday. It was warm, around the freezing mark. With no wind and the sunshine, it felt like summer. The best part of March riding on days like this are riding with one or two layers, no hat and no neck gaitor, yet be able to stay completely comfortable. With no wind, stops can last as long as I like without getting cold.

Last Sunday was the switch to daylight savings time. I was looking forward to after work rides with enough sunlight for a ride lasting a couple of hours.

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With the temp again around the freezing mark and dropping as the sun went down, conditions were fantastic.I had a great ride on the second day of Daylight Savings Time.

The rest of the week weren’t as good for snow conditions. I didn’t get out again after work. We had sunny days with temps in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s. This made for very soft, and wet, conditions. Although, we didn’t lose all our snow, it was quickly disappearing.

Last night we had a low of 17F degrees. Cold enough to really firm things up. I am not a morning person, but I knew if I wanted to some good riding I would have to get out early before the temps started getting too far above the freezing mark.

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I managed to get myself up and out by 9:45. The temp had already warmed to 32F degrees. By the time I would get back home it would be 44F degrees. By 3 o’clock it was up to 52F degrees. Making a plan paid off. I got out, had a great ride, and may have gotten in one last ride before the snow is no more. No snow in the forecast. It’s likely we could lose most of our snow before it snows again, if it snows. Once the base is gone, it’s usually a sloppy mess if we get more snow.

Here’s a map and elevation profile from today’s ride:

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It’s been a good winter. I’ll try to summarize it in another post.

I can breathe again without pain. And other news.

It’s been nearly 6 months, and two seasons have passed since I last wrote a blog post. What has motivated me to put down some words and pictures after all this time? I’ll tell what. I got the E-receipt for renewing the domain name for this blog. I figured I better use it considering it’s costing me the price of a new bicycle chain of moderate quality.

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In a snowstorm on the Duluth Traverse in the Piedmont Trail system.

The pictures are going to look the same. We are in the midst of a wonderful winter. I’ve been doing my favorite winter activity, riding snowy trails on my Pugsley. Hard to believe I’m in the middle of my 12th winter of riding on my beloved purple Pugsley. I’ve gone from being an early adopter of fatbikes to an old guy riding around on an old relic from the early days of fatbiking. But WOW, have I had fun on my one and only fatbike. I’ve ridden it more than 10,000 miles on snow alone. Ten years ago to the day today, Feburary 5, 2008, I rode it to a 12th place finish in the Arrowhead Ultra 135. One of my proudest, and toughest, accomplishments.

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At the finish line.

That was the last time I raced it. Nowadays it’s what gets me out in the woods in the winter. It’s where I love to be.

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I’m riding on trails that didn’t even exist until three years ago. It’s magical because I can see my house down below the ridge from the overlooks this trail passes.
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My house is down there.

Most of the times I’ve had on this bike have been wonderful. There was one mishap the Saturday before Christmas that wasn’t so fun. I’m running an old Surly Larry tire on the front of this bike. It worked plenty good enough for the snowmobile trails I used to ride. Now I’m spending more time riding singletrack trails. I can’t push this tire when going around snow covered berms. It has a tendency to wash out. That’s exactly what happened to me on that Saturday a couple of months ago. I went down fast and hard. Landing on my side. I felt intense pain when I went to stand up. And when I tried to start riding again. I’ve cracked a rib before. This is what it felt like. Intense pain with every breathe. I continued to ride along in a lot of pain. After about 20 minutes the pain subsided a bit to where I could take a deep enough breathes to keep going.

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I had either cracked a rib or bruised it quite bad. Here’s the kicker. Exactly one week later I was out for a ride and the darn tire washed out on me again on a berm. I landed hard on the same side. Talk about pain!!! I was injured enough that I couldn’t laugh or breathe in very much for a good six weeks. Only in the last few days have I finally been pain free. I still got out on the bike, and I did some cross-country skiing as well. It was all done with a certain degree of pain happening for the duration of the activity. Getting out of bed was quite difficult as well. At least I was still able to get out  and take advantage of the nice winter conditions.

My plan is to start blogging again. Perhaps a goal of once a week when I have something interesting to share would be something to shoot for.

Friday after work multi-surface fatbike ride.

Wow, I didn’t realize it’s been three months since my last post. It wasn’t intentional. Sometimes I need a mental break from sharing my life. It’s nice to ride and not think about my next blog post.

In terms of riding bikes, this summer has been different than any summer prior to it. I’m no longer commuting by bike. It’s still a hard adjustment to make. I loved my daily bike commute, in all weather. My rides now are almost all leisure rides. The past two months I’ve ridden only three of my five bikes. My Pugsley, my Brompton, and my Xtracycle. With the abundance of new mountain bikes trails being built in my neighborhood, I’ve been learning to be a mountain biker with my fatbike. Riding after work I much prefer to be out in the woods on the fatbike than riding in traffic on the roads. It’s so much more relaxing.

Friday evening Susan had other commitments so I had the evening to myself. I wanted to go ride some trails. The mtn bike trails weren’t really an option due to all the rain we’ve been having. We didn’t always have mountain bike trails in my part of town. This has only happened in the past 1-5 years. There’s always been lots of unofficial trails in the open spaces and woods in town. Many of them have been there for years, are hard-packed and more immune to rainy periods. I decided to string together a loop containing a mixture of rail trail, abandoned railroad right-of-ways, gravel roads, and neighborhood trails. The pictures are in order, but I didn’t stop and take pictures of everything.

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Crossing Kingsbury Creek on a snowmobile trail bridge.

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Riding the abandoned DWP railroad right-of-way. If you know Duluth, this rail line parallels the Munger Rail Trail a little further up on the same ridge line.

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Heading for Ely’s Peak and the tunnel under it. The arrow points to where the tunnel goes through the rock hillside.
The trail curves to the right in a horseshoe fashion eventually leading to the tunnel under Ely’s Peak.

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Ely’s Peak tunnel eastern end. The tunnel is 520 ft long. It curves so you can’t see the other end when standing at the entrance.
I’ve been coming to the tunnel for 12 years. It used to be spooky because I never used to see anybody here. But it’s become more popular as more people learn about about. I’ve never saw anybody else here until two year ago. Now I see several groups of people every time I come out to it. Eventually it will become part of the local trail system.

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Inside the tunnel approaching the west end.

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A DWP rail trestle west of the tunnel. It is extremely rough due to years of ATV traffic. At one time some one nailed down strips of plywood in the middle to try and smooth it out, But the plywood has deteriorated.

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The DWP rail corridor west of the tunnel.
This intersects Skyline Parkway where it meets Beck’s Road. I turned onto Skyline and headed back towards home. The western portion of Skyline Parkway is gravel.

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Skyline Parkway at Bardon’s Peak. The body of water you see is the St. Louis River about 7 miles before it flows into Lake Superior.

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Another view from Bardon’s Peak looking towards Duluth and Lake Superior beyond.

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This is a snowmobile trail in the winter. It connects Magney Snively park to the DWP and Munger Trail. I took it back to the DWP.
Once back on the DWP rail corridor I took it back east through Spirit Mountain Resort and then home. Here is a link to the route I took.

It was a nice way to end a Friday. Only the first mile and the last mile were on paved roads. It was a 17 mile loop done completely within the city limits of Duluth.

 

 

Bent Chain Rings and Wacky Weather.

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Doug’s Pug at Kingsbury Creek.

When I last posted I had taken the Pugsley out on a day with some fresh snow. The snow was covering lots and lots of ice left from some thawing and a rain storm. I wrote about taking a couple of falls in the first 3 miles. What I didn’t mention is a third fall later in the ride while walking the bike down a treacherous ice covered descent. My feet slipped out from under me and I fell towards the bike. I ended up falling on the bike with the handlebar  grips smashing into my mouth. At first I thought I might have knocked a couple teeth loose and given myself a fat lip. I was sore, but it wasn’t that bad. No loose teeth. It was at that point I decided I’d had enough and headed home.

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Trail along Knowlton Creek on the east side of Spirit Mountain.

On the way home that day I noticed a new noise while pedaling. Sounded like something hitting something else on every revolution of the cranks. At first I was baffled. But then I saw what was causing it. I had bent the bash guard and possibly my outer chain ring. The noise was the chain hitting the adjacent chain ring or bash guard. I’m using a Surly Mr Whirly MWOD crank. It’s set up as a double with a steel inner chain ring and an aluminum outer chain ring and bash guard.

I’m not sure when I bent it. I’m sure it was on one of the falls. I replayed the falls in my head for the next three days. My conclusion was I couldn’t have bent it while falling while riding it. It’s possible my knee made contact with it as I fell on top of the bike when I fell while walking the bike. Although, I keep thinking if I hit it with my knee hard enough to bend it, my knee should be hurting. It’s not, so I’m not 100% sure.?? Before I headed out yesterday I needed to try and bend the rings back. I’ve never had good luck bending aluminum back into shape. But thirty minutes in the basement with the bike in the Park Tool work stand and some bending in the bench vise and I had both the bashguard and the chain ring back close to true. Sometimes my mechanic skills I better then I think they are.

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Kingsbury Creek

Fast forward to yesterday, which was Saturday. We’d had more warm weather this past week followed by some wet snow, followed by temperatures around 0F degrees Thursday night. After eleven winters of fat tire riding on snow, I’ve become quite good at predicting trail conditions. Well, at least until this winter. The wild swings in temperatures this year have really thrown me for a loop. I’m not used to January and February thaws as big as we’ve had. Thaws that completely change the snow pack. I thought for sure after the wet snow followed by dropping temps, the conditions should be fairly crusty.

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Up on Spirit Mountain with the St Louis River below and Lake Superior in the upper left of the picture.

I was wrong. The temperature was approaching 30F degrees and the sun had just come out from behind cloud cover when I left my house. The trails were not crusty at all. These were snow mobile trails, not the local singletrack. I found the trails to be very soft. There had been very little, or no snowmobile traffic. The snowmobiles will compact the fresher snow to some extent. This helps it to firm up with the temperature drop. No such luck. The snow was so loose I was sweating heavily and working hard.

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I ended up taking it easy and enjoying the sunshine and snow. Another warm-up and lots of melting were in store for today. Another wild swing in temperatures with rain for Monday. This time of year you never know when the last ride on snow will be. I try to get out there as much as I can.

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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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.