Slow snow and 35 below
After a hundred feet of pedaling through the parking lot, I stopped to let most of the air out of both tires. Steve and Beat pressed ahead with their sleds, and I followed not far behind. The first mile was a gradual climb, and I could not catch them. The trail had the consistency of a bottomless channel of sand — the fresh snow was so cold that it wouldn't consolidate, and snowmachine paddle tracks had whipped it up into a deep and abrasive fluff. At low tire pressure the surface was rideable, but that's a relative term. It's embarrassing to be a cyclist with your butt in a saddle, turning cranks, and unable to keep up with people who are walking.
I unpacked my bike, started and nursed a small flame in the wood stove, gathered several armloads of split wood from outside to bring inside, and only then began to feel enough of a chill to pull on my down coat. As I tried to change the propane canister in the lantern, I noticed the indoor thermometer also read 30 below. "Huh."
On Sunday, the temperature warmed up to a balmy -16. We reserved two nights at Borealis, so we set out for a day trip toward Windy Gap. Only three or four snowmachines had traveled out that way since the storm, but a night of -35 set up a nice crust that supported considerably faster riding than the previous day. Beat and Steve were bogged down and postholing on this punchy trail, but my bike could float on top of the thin crust at a cool 5 mph. It was like flying!
While "flying" down the trail toward Fossil Creek, I hit a deep moose track and did some actual flying over the handlebars, into a snowbank. Cold snow packed into my balaclava and sleeves, and it took me several minutes to dig it all out. Now this is snow biking. Twenty miles only sucked up 3.5 hours on this day.
Beat and Steve had to work plenty hard themselves, and also admitted that these supposedly easy-going training trips have a way of shattering confidence. (They're both preparing for the thousand-mile haul to Nome.) But there's something about working especially hard for something that boosts appreciation, and this may have been my favorite December trip into the White Mountains yet. But I still wonder how I'm going to survive the Fat Pursuit, let alone the Bering Sea coast trip I planned for March. Best not to think about it too much.