What seems even more routine than doing the 100 mile loop in the White Mountains National Recreation Area every year on my fatbike, is how I somehow always do it ‘off-the-couch.’ Maybe because I know I can?
In 2010, I had just gotten my 29er with Snow Cats and thought it would be a good idea to do a 100 mile winter bike trip in the backcountry. I had no experience doing this sort of a trip on a bike, especially in winter. It went fine, I had a lot of fun, learned many things, and came back feeling strong and accomplished… and lucky with the nice conditions I had.
In 2011, I broke down and bought a fatbike in February. Then in March, I got into the White Mountains 100 race 23 hours before the start. I had not planned on doing the race, outside of signing up for the wait list a week before, when the race director told me I’d probably get in if I did. First time doing any sort of racing and I hadn’t even put on 100 cumulative miles on any of my bikes prior to the race. I finished 23rd, in 16 hrs 15 mins with my single-speed Pugsley. I was exhausted, but I did it and I didn’t kill myself doing it.
This year, we all survived the month-and-a-half cold snap of doing nothing other than simply surviving (read: not biking). I hadn’t ridden since early December (see the winter extreme cold weather trend?) and Brett had never been on his bike for more than two hours at one time, having just gotten it earlier this winter. I knew we’d be fine, though… right?
Having done the 100 mile route twice already, I’ve learned snow biking is the perfect time to swallow your pride and admit you’re mortal. Yes, get off and push the bike up the hills, using fresh walking legs. It’s easier than trying to ride the steep and mushy if you’re not in phenomenal shape.
We had a great plan to meet up with three friends at the cabin 62 miles into the 100 mile loop and spend the night. They’d be there before us, so a warm cabin was our motivation to push on… literally.
Riding was pretty good, albeit slightly slow due to the cold, granulated snow. We did 35 miles in 5 hours, which is alright for loaded bikes, then rested for a bit at the cabin pictured at right, and went over 3300 foot Cache Mountain Divide in the dark, pushing up a lot of it. Once on the other side, it was a long descent to the cabin, including almost two miles of overflow ice with ankle deep slush in places.
We rolled in to the cabin at 9 pm, under the glow of the aurora, and were welcomed by our three friends with hot water and a warm cabin. It was a great way to end a 62 mile day of winter biking, hanging out with friends, watching the aurora, and sleeping in a warm cabin in the middle of everywhere.
John Shook had a wonderful idea to heat up some brandy on the wood stove for Brett & I, but Ed Plumb grabbed the pot, in the poorly lit cabin, dumped the ‘contents’ in the water pot, and headed outside to get more snow for melting. John raced to the door and yelled, ‘STOP!,’ but it was too late. Brandy water it was for Brett & I to fill our bottles with for the next day. It was like having a little dose of ibuprofen with every drink. Pretty sweet way to ease aching muscles.
The next morning, we left the cabin with the temp at 5 below and rode into the bottom of the Beaver Creek drainage, where the cold settled in. The 20 below temps nipped at our noses and fingers as we pedaled through the open spruce forest.
With the dropping temperatures came drier and more granulated (read: slower) snow. It was a struggle to pedal flat ground, much less any sort of uphill gradient. After pushing up many small grades, including the 600 foot, mile long Wickersham Wall, we only had a handful of miles left as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.
We reached the trailhead and got to drive back to Fairbanks in the light. What a treat to not be out in the dark again. I’m glad I went with Brett, this time, as it was really fun to bike the route with another person. Also very cool to meet up with our friends at the cabin, which made for a nice night on trail.
Another loop on the 100 mile route in the White Mountains complete. Maybe next time I’ll be in better shape.
Maybe next time, I’ll do it self-supported in a day…