Snow Adventures 2013, Part 1

So, it turns out I've been doing a fair bit of riding in the snow lately.  I'm not talking about the snowy rides that went down during this year's Festive 500.  I'm talking about off-road, singletrack, knobby-tired snow riding.  This is a new thing for me.  Growing up in Georgia (not the former Soviet one), "winter" riding conditions were actually ideal for mountain biking with temperatures in the forties and infrequent precipitation.  Winter mountain biking in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest is a rare and muddy affair at low elevations and is typically made completely impossible by the heavy snowfall that covers high-altitude trails.  However, a combination of atypical circumstances in the last week has made it possible for me to enjoy two spectacular, sub-freezing, snowy days on the trail bike.

The first ride came on the very first day of 2013 when India and I headed out with a crew of friends from Metropolis Cycle Repair to ride the ever-expanding trail network at Stub Stewart State Park.  While most of the West Coast was still in bed, hiding from the sun and nursing their hangovers we were rallying the troops, fixing flats, loading roof racks and heading for the trails.  

Those who followed my Festive 500 may recall that most of December 31, 2012 was spent on a dawn-to-dusk expedition into the Columbia Gorge on the road bike.  Can you think of anything better to do the day after riding 110 miles on the road then drinking beer until midnight while watching The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour than taking your pounding headache and wasted legs out to the snowy woods for a mountain bike ride?  Of course not.

Here is the sequence of events as they progressed from the waning hours of 2012 into the first morning of 2013:

Ride your bike 110 miles through snow, ice, rain and wind:

Arrive home, drink beer with The Beatles:

Pass out after midnight, sleep the dreamless sleep of the drunk, wake, drink coffee, eat this:

Get in the car, hide your headache behind sunglasses and drive to this:

Saddle up and ride!

While outriding a hangover is not possible, a little taste of the hair of the dog is often all it takes to whip the trail-hungry booze hound into shape.  As you may notice if you look closely at the top tube of the Ahearne 29er in the above photo, several of us were packing heat.  A little nip from the flask, plenty of water from the hydration pack and some good 'ol fashioned fat tire climbing had me feeling ship-shape, despite the persistent ache in my legs from lack of recovery.  

Trail conditions were frosty and frozen with only a light dusting of snow, temperatures started out right around freezing and slowly warmed as the day went on.  I was shocked at the amount of traction to be had on the frozen dirt and enjoyed listening to the squeaking sound of my tires nearing the limit of their grip as I progressively harder into corners.  Even in areas of deeper snow or icier conditions, the trails were fast and very rideable due to the near-perfect camber the builders put on the corners.  

Overall, the riding at Stub Stewart stands apart from other areas of the Coast Range where the trails are very steep, narrow and technical, were not built with two-wheeled traffic in mind and present often impossible challenges to riders who aren't highly skilled and super-fit.  In contrast, the trails at Stub are smooth, fast and not overly technical but with enough corners and sneaky roots to make things interesting and provide mountain bikers of all skill levels with a fun time  Newer riders don't have to live in fear of scary obstacles around every corner and the more experienced can open the throttle and explore the boundaries of tire adhesion.  The climbing is tough but not brutalizing, descents fast and whippy but not so steep to make speeds uncontrollable.  The cross-country loops are humpy and rolling with neatly banked corners, a few tight spots between trees and plenty of sculpted water bars and grade reversals to provide perfect places to practice your pump track skills or get some air.  This is perfect singlespeed territory.  The fact that these trails were built by and for mountain bikers is abundantly clear but the network has a backcountry feel that is missing from most "flow trails" like the highly-regarded Sandy Ridge.  Despite all this, Kristina and India were clearly not impressed:

More photos are on Flickr for your perusal.  The crew rode until our alcohol-poisoned legs could hardly turn the cranks, some of the sunnier sections of trail were beginning to melt and turn muddy and the limited daylight hours were coming near to a close.  We soft-pedaled our tired bodies back to the cars and made ready for the trip back to town with a stop at the legendary Helvetia Tavern to satisfy our craving for protein, fried potatoes and hoppy beverages.  It was a fabulous day of riding and a perfect way to start the new year.  

Coming up in Part Two of this series, we'll be heading some 400-odd miles from Portland to Boise, Idaho where we will investigate one of the largest in-town trail networks in the United States.  Here's a little preview to wet your whistle:

Happy Trails!

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