Thursday, March 10, 2011

Me and the beast

I know I vowed to buckle down and begin work on writing projects, but I'm in a new place and the urge to explore is just too enticing. I feel I should be able to allot ... let's say three hours ... each day for bikesplorations and/or trail running. That should maybe scratch the itch enough that I can concentrate on my work. And after all, I'm still training for the White Mountains 100, right? Tapering doesn't have to begin until, well ... next week.

Speaking of training, it is now looking like I'll be riding Beat's Fatback in the White Mountains. Since I haven't really ridden the Fatback before, I decided I should take it out for a few good rides beforehand to make sure I'm comfortable with the bike. Beat has adopted my penchant for giving bicycles uninspired pet names, and we've take to calling the Fatback "Fatty." Fatty is a beautiful aluminum fat bike with a carbon fork and 70mm Speedway rims. It weighs substantially less than Pugsley, at least seven pounds less; it also handles better and has vastly newer parts than Pugsley. Only catch is I have to make sure it "fits" me.

I picked a route that looked good on the map. Turns out around here, if something looks good on a map — even if it involves a mixture of singletrack, pavement and fire roads — it's probably an established route. This one is called the "Stevens Creek Loop." From my house, it's about 24 miles and 2,900 feet of climbing. It was the perfect snow-bike training route for California — a long, gradual climb on mixed terrain, including plenty of mud of splashy creek crossings.

A light, misty rain fell for most of my ride up the canyon. Beneath the satin cloud cover, as I passed silver droplets hanging from branches and tree trunks wrapped in green strands of moss, I was hit with another pang of Juneau nostalgia. It's actually been a while since I visited one of these: "Places That Make Me Miss Southeast Alaska." I guess I am back on the Pacific Coast now, even if it is a couple thousand miles too far south.

The final fire road climb to Monte Bello Ridge was a grind, on soft mud at a 10-percent grade. You feel every millimeter of a climb like that on a fat bike, especially when you are maybe not in top biking shape, but I dug in and spun away at it. As I rose, the clouds closed in.

I'm pretty stoked about the Fatback. As I crested Black Mountain, I mulled how I was going to possibly fit all my gear on the bike ... sleeping system on the rear rack, water and food in a backpack, spare clothing hanging off handlebars. Maybe I should just go with my original plan to only carry a down coat, a few spare layers, fire-starting supplies and an emergency bivy. I'm genuinely torn with the decision of gear for this winter race — whether to go light and fast, or safe and secure. I know the terrain and feel fairly certain that, barring major injury, I should have no issues traveling the entire way without the need to bivy, even if it's quite cold. However, my brushes with "too cold and not enough clothing to combat it" during the Susitna 100 have scared the insecurities back into me.

But for now, I'm a chick on a fat bike in coastal California. One construction flagger on the Stevens Creek Road called the Fatback "creepy," and another transient near the freeway yelled "nice motorcycle!" But I was lucky today to otherwise have that entire lush, misty trail to myself, whooping and singing along with my iPod as I wended around tight corners through the woods. I have to admit, it's kind of awesome to be able to get out for rides mid-day during the week. I'm starting to feel like I "own" that Monte Bello trail system, and I'm almost afraid to return on a sunny weekend day.