I love riding in snow. It's just so amazing being out in the woods or in the mountains when no one is around. The silence. The joy.
I got a great chance to get some early winter riding this past weekend down in Girdwood, AK. Amazing!
I didn't ride far. In fact, I barely topped seven miles in total. Approximately. Maybe a bit further, maybe a bit shorter. Who knows for sure? Who really cares?
The riding was challenging and for a portion of it I broke the rules, but it was worth it. Winner Creek trail. The first 7/10ths of a mile of the trail is closed to bikes. Well, not closed to bikes, but closed to riding bikes. And I understand why. This trail is a popular trail, starting on a resort's property. The trail, in the early stages, is a lot of narrow boardwalk and generally gets a lot of traffic. In the summer. When I took off, there were exactly one set of tracks in the snow. I figured if it came down to it, I'd hop off the bike if I ran into anyone. No worries.
The route is a mixed bag. Primarily climbing. Lots of boardwalk. Some narrow boardwalk with lots of step ups on the way out. Climbing. Lots of climbing. The first mile and a half, to the junction between the upper and lower Winner Creek trails is nice riding through some amazing temperate rain forest. The trees here seem absolutely massive. Particularly when compared to trees elsewhere in this state.
I decided, at the junction, to take the upper trail, as I've hiked the lower before and knew where it would take me. So I took the upper. I made it maybe another mile and a half to two miles up the trail before time and trail conditions conspired against me and I decided to turn around.
All in all, I spent a good hour and 45 minutes riding up and then back down the trail. I had no revelations. No deep thoughts about anything. Just enjoyed the feeling of working my legs and lungs and heart. Enjoyed the feeling of sweating in the cold air. Enjoyed watching the snow coming down the mountain.
I did have a chance to really get a better sense of the bike as a winter machine. And I'm still not sold on the Hodag tires. No matter what they seemed to want to break loose on stuff that the Nates never would. The initial part of the ride involved a fair number of short, sharp climbs of frozen dirt, ice, and hoarfrost covered by a thin layer of snow. Perfect conditions for a studded tire, but also conditions that I've ridden successfully on the Surly Nate tires before. With the Hodag and the geo of the Trek, I felt that each climb was a struggle to balance keeping weight on the rear while keeping the front firmly planted and keeping the tires from breaking loose.
On off-camber stuff - forget about it. The sidewalls of the Hodags have no grip whatsoever. I had to daub a number of times when the rear would start sliding downhill.
Coming back down the mountain, I found that the back end wanted to break loose on corners if going too fast or that the wheel would lock and slide with just the littlest pressure on the brakes. This might be more an issue of the difference between the hydro and mechanical brakes, but it feels like the tire has something to do with it.
This leads me to think that I really need to do a side by side compare between the Hodag and the Nate because, admittedly, it's been a year since I've ridden the Nate in snow. I know my observations about the Nate on dirt and mud versus the Hodag are correct, because there was not much in the way of elapsed time between riding these conditions on both tires.
This said, I had a wonderfully enjoyable ride overall. The bike is agile and fairly well-mannered on the trail. I still have some adjusting to do in terms of my interface with the bike and trusting the bike to go where and do what I tell it to, like I had with the Pugs. Of course, that kind of trust comes from having a crash or two. And at this time of year, I prefer to wait for a bit more snow to soften the blow… I don't heal as fast as I used to!
It was a good ride. A good day.